North Jersey News Roundup for Feb. 10, 2021

Representing the first time falling below 50%, a majority of Americans don’t believe the nation’s system of government is sound, according to the most recent Monmouth University Poll. The poll, released just ahead of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the U.S. Senate, identified a partisan divide, with a majority of Americans concerned the country would face lasting damage if the opposite group’s policies were put in place. Democrats argued a lack of compromise was the root problem in Washington, while Republican counterparts felt too few officials were willing to stand firm. Overall, just 44% of respondents thought the system of government was basically sound. 

The impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump will proceed after the U.S. Senators voted 56-to-44 to reject Trump’s defense team arguments the trial should be dismissed. House impeachment managers argued dismissing the impeachment trial would create a “January exception,” setting the precedent for a lame-duck president to act without consequence in the final weeks of his administration. The defense team characterized the prosecution’s case as a “snap impeachment” and argued that a former President should not have to stand trial because it would establish the precedent for any former official to be punished after leaving office at the whim of the party in power. The New York Times

Sen. Cory Booker will lead Senate Democrats’ plan to seek to end the federal ban on marijuana and help communities ravaged for decades by the War on Drugs. Booker plans to forward legislation that would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances alongside heroin, ecstasy and LSD, while also expunging the records of those convicted of low-level marijuana possession, and creating a community reinvestment fund to help residents adversely impacted by the current drug laws.

A federal judge recently gave the go-ahead for lawyers representing 9/11 victims to formally question more than a dozen Saudi Arabian officials under oath in a series of legal depositions. Two depositions of mid-level Saudi officials took place in January and lawyers are scheduled to question a former high-ranking official at the Saudi embassy in Washington who supervised another staffer with reported links to al-Qaeda operatives who carried out the 9/11 attacks. The Record

Political committees and campaigns for every municipal, county and state office in New Jersey would be required to develop anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies under a newly-proposed bill. Introduced by State Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Vin Gopal (D-11), S-3389 would require the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to create an independent unit to probe allegations of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination in the political sphere. The proposal stems from a series of recommendations made by work groups formed by the two senators in the wake of allegations of assault and misogyny against then-candidate Phil Murphy’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign and media reports on New Jersey’s political culture. 

Pharmacies in New Jersey would be prohibited from selling tobacco and vaping products in a bill approved by the state’s Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. The bill exempts department stores, supermarkets and box stores with pharmacies. A pharmacy would receive a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. The proposed law now goes to the full Senate.

South Africa will give the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to its frontline healthcare workers beginning next week as a study to see what protection it provides from the coronavirus, particularly against the variant dominant there. South African officials scrapped plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because it “does not prevent mild to moderate disease” of the variant. News12 New Jersey

Callers are being told when they call the state’s vaccine hotline that they can not book an appointment even though state officials have stated the system was set up to help secure a slot. Callers said they were told the workers didn’t have the capability to make appointments despite Health Department commissioner Judith Persichilli declaring at a press briefing Feb. 8 that the hotline was able to.

Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Donald Norcross are seeking $4 billion in coronavirus relief funding for two bi-state transportation agencies not included in recent aid packages. The two congressmen want House Democratic leaders to include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Delaware River Port Authority in the next emergency relief package as “Multi-state entities deserve direct relief just like the other transportation entities that have already received it from Congress. New Jersey Globe

School leaders are pushing state lawmakers to seek a federal waiver for standardized testing set to begin in March. A federal requirement, states were allowed to cancel exams last Spring during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan said the state is waiting to see if the Biden Administration allows states to cancel exams.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans will be tax exempt at the state level for the 2020 tax season. The move announced by Gov. Phil Murphy follows the federal government’s lead, which has clarified that PPP loans and business expenses paid for with the funds are exempt from federal income taxes. 

Scheduled school and fire district elections on April 20 as well as the municipal nonpartisan elections set for May 11 will be conducted in person after last year’s elections were held primarily by mail-in ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We are able to take this step as our COVID numbers are headed—I emphasize headed—in the right direction and we are optimistic that these trends will continue, especially as more residents get vaccinated and the weather becomes warmer,” Gov. Phil Murphy stated at a press briefing Feb. 8. “If these trends continue, and continuing these trends rests entirely with not just us, but all of us—it’s in our hands—we can again look to additional steps to further reopen our economy.” 

Morris County Republican Committee voted to institute a county line to identify the primary candidates it will endorse on future ballots. Committee members voted 305-143 to end the era of open primaries, a move supporters of the measure say is needed to contend with increasing Democratic footing in a county that has long been a Republican stronghold. The Daily Record

Hoboken is placing a cap on how much third-party food delivery services can charge restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. Starting Feb. 23, any third-party food takeout and delivery service application or website will be prohibited from charging a fee to a restaurant for takeout or delivery service greater than 15% of the cost of the individual order; or greater than 5% of the cost of the individual order when the order is delivered by an employee of the restaurant or a delivery service contracted by the restaurant. Hudson Reporter

The Newark Avenue pedestrian plaza in Jersey City will expand to cover from Grove Street to Jersey Avenue when a $6.7 million overhaul is complete. The project calls for elevating the street level to match the sidewalk, granite pavers, a stage for community events, rain garden tree planters and cafe lighting to improve visibility with funding for the project coming from the city’s capital account. The Jersey Journal

And finally…The Italian rainbow doughnut at Glaze Donuts in New Milford was named the best in New Jersey. Food and Wine Magazine

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